CEDAR FALLS — Turnover kings. Turnaround kings.
That’d be championship-bound turnover, turnaround kings.
A pass interception led to the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and a fumble recovery after a quarterback sack in the final two minutes sealed Williamsburg’s 28-14 win over Union Community in a Class 2A state football playoff semifinal Saturday night at the UNI-Dome.
The Raiders (10-2) were ranked No. 1 late in the regular season but dropped two of their final three games, including a blowout loss in the finale to Mount Vernon. They snuck into the playoffs via one of two statewide wildcard berths, avenged that loss to MV, and here they are.
The championship opponent Friday afternoon at 2 is No. 5 Waukon (11-1). It’ll be Williamsburg’s second finals appearance, the other coming in 2002.
“You can learn so many great lessons in this game, in this sport,” said Coach Curt Ritchie. “This has been a great example of just getting up. It’s hard to explain what happened ... We kind of hit a wall, I just couldn’t get things going. Then, all of a sudden, that Mount Vernon week, they just realized what was ahead of them. I don’t know if it was necessarily being ranked No. 1, but it just felt like they were playing with so much pressure. Playing not to make mistakes instead of just playing.”
Now they are forcing their opponents to make mistakes. Williamsburg had three fumble recoveries and an interception in a first-round win over Prairie City-Monroe, three picks and a fumble recovery last week in the quarterfinals against Mount Vernon and an interception and two fumble recoveries here.
Sophomore safety Kaden Wetjen picked off a Troy Hanus pass late in the third quarter and returned it to the Union 34. Eventually, fullback Tucker Stanerson powered over from the 3 for a TD and a 21-14 Raiders lead.
Then with Union near midfield late in the game, defensive end Ben Subbert sacked Hanus, forcing a fumble teammate Sterling Greiner recovered. Ballgame.
“In the regular season, we didn’t get a whole lot of turnovers,” said Stanerson, an outside linebacker. “In the playoffs, you really want to emphasize that. It started with PCM, where we got a lot of fumble recoveries. Against Mount Vernon, we got a lot of interceptions. We just want to keep on going.”
Union (8-4) got second-quarter touchdown runs from Hanus and Koby Alpers for a 14-7 halftime lead but was held to just 49 yards in the second half.
“They just got off blocks better,” said Union Coach Joe Hadachek, whose team was seeking a second consecutive finals appearance. “They blocked and tackled really well. We didn’t get a whole lot of yardage after contact. You get ‘x’ number of possessions, and you’ve got to score some points. You can’t not score any points in the second half and expect to win a football game.”
Union did a stout job against Williamsburg running back Gage Hazen-Fabor most of the night, not allowing 2A’s leading rusher to get to the outside, where he uses his speed to excel. But Stanerson and quarterback Gage Blythe picked up the slack.
It was Blythe, in particular, who keyed the second-half comeback with some important pass plays. He completed four balls in a crucial 75-yard drive that tied the game at 14-14 in the third, including a 34-yard touchdown pass over the top and down the left sideline to cousin Brandon Blythe.
Gage Blythe completed 8 of 11 passes in the game for 158 yards.
“I thought Gage did a great job of spreading the ball around tonight. That was big,” Ritchie said. “In these big games, he’s not going to put you in a bad position. He’s going to make plays when he needs to.”
Hazen-Fabor ended up with 125 yards rushing on 27 carries and two touchdowns. That included a 12-yarder on fourth down with 13 seconds left.
Stanerson, by the way, hadn’t gotten a carry all season until last week’s rematch with Mount Vernon. This was his first touchdown.
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“We just stuck together,” Hazen-Fabor said. “The big thing we talked about was perserverance. We kept talking about how our time would come ... We had to keep on pounding, keep on pounding. Keep on running, keep on running. Just keep on doing what we’re doing.”
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